Yes, I’m a Christian—But I’m Not With Them

My parents always said to be careful who you associate yourself with because you are known by the company you keep—that the people around you reflect on you and manufacture other’s perception of you from a distance. Sometimes that mistaken association will be so detrimental and embarrassing, that you will need to speak out and severe the connection.

I’m a Christian, and I realize that word may come with a great deal of baggage for you. You might have an idea about the kind of person you believe that makes me, simply because of the professed Christians you see out there in the world or the ones you may know. You may believe you know what I think or how I feel or how I vote because of the way someone else thinks or feels or votes.

Since I’m aware of this potential association and since I too see what you see every day—I need you to know where I stand:

I’m not with the Christians who shilled for this President, who sold their souls and leveraged their pulpits for political capital, who continue to defend his every vile deed, every reckless Tweet, every gross abuse of power—despite him not bearing the slightest discernible resemblance to Jesus. 

I believe this President and his Administration are fully devoid of Christlikeness.

I’m not with the Christians who believe healthcare is a luxury saved only for the rich and the well; those who claim to be followers of Jesus, the healer—while throwing the poor and elderly and ill, to the wolves of circumstance or sickness.

I believe all people who are physically, emotionally, and mentally ill, deserve every chance to get well—and by more than just thoughts and prayers.

I’m not with the Christians who police the bodies and bathrooms and bedrooms of strangers, who distort the Bible in order to justify their fear of people for who and how they love; the ones who’ve turned gender identity and sexual orientation into a weapon of damnation—who would tell adults who they can fall in love with and marry and raise children with.

I believe LGBTQ people are made fully in the image of God and deserve every happiness and right this world has to give them.

I’m not with the Christians who savagely beat their breasts about their shrinking religious freedoms, while regularly manufacturing monsters out of Muslim men and women seeking to live out their chosen faith tradition here in peace, without silencing,harassment, or discrimination—those Christians who do not admit or call out the prevalent and deadly extremism in our faith tradition.

I believe those practicing Islam should be as free and unfettered in this country as those who claim Christianity.

I’m not with the Christians who believe a woman’s body is anyone else’s jurisdiction but her own, those who believe they can legislate their morality upon another human being or take a woman’s personal autonomy from her for any reason.

I believe that women get the only say in what happens to and within their specific bodies.

I’m not with the Christians who refuse to acknowledge their privilege.
I’m not with the Christians who believe everyone should be able to get a gun, but not every one should be able to get prenatal care.
I’m not with Christians who believe God is responsible for Donald Trump’s Presidency.
I’m not with Christians who say they’re Pro-Life, but for the Death Penalty and against birth control.

I’m not with Christians who believe they have the Bible figured out enough to condemn anyone else.
I’m not with the Christians who believe they get to tell strangers they’re going to hell.

Yes, I’m a Christian, but I don’t want you to mistake me for those who may claim to speak for me or represent me by default—those you may have sitting across from you at dinner or worshiping next to you at church or preaching on TV or Tweeting diatribes. 

I hope that the fruit of my personal faith is apparent.
I hope that it yields compassion for the hurting, protection for the vulnerable, eyes for the forgotten.
I hope it champions equality for all people, truly diverse community, and a love that transcends difference.
I hope these things are obvious and that they set me apart from those Christians who may speak a different message with their lives—and quite loudly at that.

I also want you to know that there are many of us out here; people with a real, prayerful, fervent desire to follow Jesus, who feel like we’ve had our identities stolen by the pulpit bullies, fear mongers, and Bible bigots who make the headlines and steal the bandwidth and monopolize the conversation.

We want you to know that they do not speak for us. We don’t believe they speak for Jesus.

I guess what I’m saying, is that I hope you won’t too hastily judge all of us based on those who share the name of our faith tradition, and little else. We are as distressed as you with what we see them doing in the name of Jesus these days.

We’re exhausted by their hatred, fed up with their intolerance, disgusted by their violence—and no, we’re not with them.

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for the Bridges I’ve Burned This Year

Many times a day I think about them—the people I used to feel close to, the ones I once felt at home with, those whose presence I used to find comfort in. They are family members, lifelong friends, co-workers, neighbors, former church friends. My mind shows me their faces and lists off their names, and I begin to grieve the loss anew as I remember what once was but no longer is.

I think about the massive and quickly widening space between myself and these people; the great distance created by silence or hurtful words or simply by me knowing what I now know about them. I rewind through the social media skirmishes, the cold family gatherings, and the incendiary verbal bombshells we’ve exchanged this year, and I survey the bloody fallout.

And I’m keenly aware that I am likely burning bridges between us in these days.

Simply by my steady volume, by my refusal to nurture falsehoods, by my insistence on calling out hypocrisy, by my intolerance to hatred—I am probably forever altering the connection between us.

I’m going to have to risk this.
I’m going to have to be okay with the burning.
It isn’t that I find any satisfaction in the separation or the slightest joy in the severing of ties—not even the cheap high of a middle finger flip, mic drop as I walk away. It’s simply self-preservation.

I am speaking unapologetic truth about the things that matter the most to me.
I am enduring the collateral damage of full authenticity.
I am clinging tightly to my integrity and my sanity—even if I have to let go of these treasured relationships to do it.
I’m holding onto my soul at any cost, because in the end it is worth more to me than even they are.
More than appeasing someone else or accommodating their prejudices, I need to be able to look myself in the mirror and to sleep at night.

A part of me still looks for common ground with these people, still longs for restoration, but honestly it is growing smaller and smaller as I see how far apart we are, as I find how fundamentally differently we see the world, and as I hear the sound of my own clear voice ringing out. The more they dig their heels in, the less and less interested I become in making an uneasy truce with the things that turn my stomach and break my heart—even when those things come from people I love and respected. There isn’t time for that.

And so yes, if saying that Black Lives Matter, and affirming the Muslim community, and condemning treason, and standing with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and calling out men who boast of grabbing women by the p*ssy, and demanding care for sick people—if these things ignite the bridges connecting me and these people, so be it. I’m not reveling in it but I can live with it. I can still even love some of them, but I will simply love them from a safe distance.

I know that in the space made as these tethers burn away, there are other beautiful things being built: connections with people who too are willing to sacrifice comfort in order to resist unacceptable things, a different tribe formed in the affinity we have for all people, a more expansive community of faith with a far bigger table.

Most of all, a truer, stronger version of myself is being formed in the crucible of this new distance—one that refuses to waste a single, fleeting second being silent in the face of a hatred that compels me to speak.

Yes, I suppose I’m burning some bridges.

It happens when you find yourself on fire.

 

 

 

 

Why My Faith is Political

“You should stay out of politics and stick to preaching the Gospel.” – Bill, a Christian

Several times a day I’m chided by a well-meaning friend, complete stranger, or soon-to-be-disconnecting social media acquaintance for being “too political” as a Christian and or as a pastor. Curiously, I most frequently I hear these sentiments from Conservative Christians—and I’m never quite sure what “Gospel” they want me to stick to, but it certainly isn’t the one Jesus mentioned:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come – Jesus (Luke 4:18-19)

I’ve long ago learned that this carefully constructed code language can almost always be translated as, “The personal faith convictions which you are expressing publicly are now bumping up against my daily life—and this makes me uncomfortable and I want to make you stop.”

Embedded in the reprimand is the myth that there is somehow a way of being spiritual without also being political; some sharp, easily identifiable, universally accepted line delineating the sacred from the secular, the supernatural from the practical, religious matters from civil ones—and that Church People can and should learn to “stay in their lanes”.

The only problem with such suggestions, is that if you are a committed person of any faith tradition, life is the lane. It’s all spiritual stuff.

For me, this means that my faith isn’t an isolated activity that I engage in between many other non-religious ones. It is the very lens through which I view everything, and it likewise informs every facet of my life: the work I do, the words I write, the causes I support, how I spend my money, how I experience community, the way I vote, how I see and discuss the world. To suggest I separate my spirituality from any area of my life is like asking ask my brain to function independently from my circulatory system. The two are ultimately inextricably linked. Their existence is symbiotic.

Granted, many American Christians have somehow managed to construct something they’ve named Religion which allows such a disconnect. Many practice a strangely compartmentalized faith, one where they divide their time neatly between a spiritual life and the rest of life. This kind of thinking allows many folks to go to church for sixty minutes on the weekend—and to be largely unaffected by Jesus the rest of the week. It also allows them to openly support politicians without a trace of Christ’s benevolence, compassion, or humility. It enables them to claim they emulate the healer Jesus, while taking healthcare from tens of millions of people.

For far too many Christians, being in a building on Sunday and praying, singing, reading the Bible are “spiritual things.” Anything bleeding out beyond the church walls (especially stuff that inhibits their personal comfort or established prejudices) is quickly labeled political and therefore declared off-limits. This isn’t how faith works.

Christians who chastise other believers for being political simply aren’t paying attention to what Jesus taught, did, or called the faithful to do. He wasn’t urging people to withdraw into a cloistered religious bubble existence, and he wasn’t asking them to suppress their beliefs to keep the peace with the culture around them—even the prevailing religious system that claimed to speak for God.

Jesus was equal parts gentle personal pastor and subversive community activist.
He was compassionate shepherd to the sheep in his care, and defiant defender squarely up in the snorting faces of the wolves.
He gave equal time to transforming people’s hearts and to renovating social structures.
If we try to only hold on to one aspect and not the other, we do so at the risk of creating and replicating a counterfeit Jesus.

While he absolutely taught the virtues of one’s personal spirituality, Jesus did so while calling people in community to publicly respond to the injustices in the world. He preached a countercultural Kingdom of Heaven/God which stood in sharp contrast to the Roman Empire, the strongest political force in the world at the time. To be obedient to God and faithful to the teachings of Jesus in this time, by its very nature became a political statement. It had to, because of how differently it called a person to live in the world. Nothing has changed.

Ultimately, are these political matters or spiritual ones:
Eliminating poverty?
Caring for the planet?
Ensuring equality for all people?
Confronting violence and bigotry?
Caring for sick people?
Avoiding war?
Protecting the vulnerable and young in our midst?
Fighting government corruption?

If one is a person of faith these matters have to be both—or that faith is rather neutered and inconsequential.

I fully resist the idea of America as a Theocracy in any form. The dubious moment sixty or so years ago when the Religious Right shacked up with our political system and produced the twisted love child that is the current Republican Party—is one of the most destructive and embarrassing moments in our recent national history and that of the Church as well.

This toxic alliance has given birth to and nurtured the dangerous lies that:
1) God is American.
2) America is Christian.
3) The GOP has the exclusive rights to Jesus—and they get to make sure that the first two rules are both strictly guarded and fiercely enforced.

I am not at all saying any of this. Our nation’s initial decision to officially separate Church and State wisely makes sure that no group of religious people of any kind can enforce their beliefs on our civic system. This is good and right and necessary—but to ask someone to separate their personal beliefs from the world they live in, is impossible. The very idea that a person of my or any faith convictions has a tidy little fenced off area where they “do their religion,” is ludicrous and rather demeaning at its core. 

I would never propose that another human being (religious or not) should ever be required to share my personal faith convictions, or that those convictions should be the law of the land. But I refuse to censor those convictions or to be bullied or shamed into believing that to share them in any number of ways, is somehow bad form for a respectable Christian. It’s Christ’s form—and ultimately that’s who I need to take my cue from.

Whether you identify as Christian or not, my faith does not need to be your faith—but don’t expect that faith to stay only where you believe it is supposed to be to keep you comfortable. You don’t get to decide that. I don’t even get to either.

If you’re a professed Christian and you believe that your faith in Christ can be separated from anything else or that it can ever be politically neutral, I’m going to suggest that your heart has not yet been fully saturated by the Jesus you’re claiming.

When it has been, you’ll find yourself called to more than a political party or even your own country. You’ll realize that your entire life is spiritual and that everything is on the table—and you’ll speak loudly into all of it. 

The American Church Needs Brave Christians

Right now, if it really believes what it preaches, the American Church has one foot in Hell and one on a banana peel—and this God-forsaken wannabe theocracy, is that banana peel.

This Church needs to step very carefully in these days.
It needs to think very clearly about why it exists.
It needs to recognize the urgency of the moment.
It needs to know what it stands to lose.

And by “Church,” I mean:
Every man and woman who will fill buildings all over the country this weekend, singing and listening and amen-ing for an hour.
Those who follow Jesus outside of a local faith community; who pray and study and worship beyond those buildings and away from those campuses.

Those with Bible verses adorning their social media profiles, with Scripture references tattooed on their forearms, those with crosses on their walls and with Jesus fish on their bumpers.
Christians along every square inch of the political and theological spectrums.

We’re all in this together.
This is our shared burden.
It’s our ball to carry or drop.

Theologically speaking, the Church has never been a building. It’s never been made of brick and mortar and glass, but of flesh and blood and bone. It’s always been the collective presence of ordinary people here on the planet, seeking to make the love of Jesus tangible in the messy trenches of daily existence. (Or at least that’s been the idea.)

In Scripture, the Apostle Paul calls this global assembly of Christians the “body of Christ”; the breathing sanctuaries moving through this space. The Church was intended to be composed of followers of Jesus personifying him here in the starkly lit, butt-naked truth of our lives.

In other words, the world is supposed to look at us collectively; at how we live, love, speak, and forgive—and see what Jesus looked like when his feet were on the planet. That is the sole reason we exist here two thousand years later. We are made to be the visible legacy of Christ.

I’m terrified at what the world sees when it looks at us right now. I don’t think it sees whatever it was Jesus intended them to see.

I think the world more commonly sees something monstrous; a crudely fashioned Frankenstein of the worst kind of greed, vanity, and self-interest. I think it sees something that looks right at home in politics of fear, in the intolerance toward outsiders, in the ugliness of bigotry that is helming our nation right now.

In so many instances, there is no distinction between the supposed “ambassadors for Christ,” and the sycophantic shills for a President without morality. That’s a problem, and a disgrace—and a sin.

If the American Church is indeed a body, then it also has a soul. And if it does have a soul, then that soul is surely in danger of damnation for its current offenses. It is certainly in dire need of the redemptive, reverse-direction repentance Jesus spoke of—the kind its Evangelical preachers and Conservative practitioners are so fond of demanding of those outside their doors. 

And to change its catastrophic course, the Church doesn’t need more churches or more market share, or Supreme Court seats or preferential legislation or political capital—The Church needs brave Christians.

It needs people who value their personal faith convictions more than their allegiance to a political party, more than fitting in at Thanksgiving dinner, more than being comfortable by staying silent, more than the softness of their privilege, more than allowing preachers to say whatever they want just because their daddies and patrons gave them a pulpit. The Church needs men and women who will say that bigotry wrapped in religion is still bigotry, that Christianity was never supposed to be about power—and that Jesus doesn’t give a damn if America is first.

The Church needs Christians who aren’t afraid to follow Jesus right out of the Church is that’s where he leads them.

American Christianity is teetering on the precipice of irrelevance, of uselessness, of moral bankruptcy—which all may be fine. Maybe it needs to fully die so that something beautiful can be born in its wake. Maybe.

But I’m not willing to wait for that. I’m not going to leave it to the future to have to fix what we destroy. I’m one of those breathing sanctuaries here and now, and as a wise man once said, “I am not throwin’ away my shot.”

I’m using whatever daylight I have to speak the words and walk the path and live the life that I believe Jesus intended—even if that causes me to lose opportunities and church friends and family members, and disturb Christians who slap that name on themselves without seeming to be inconvenienced by Jesus in the slightest.

I’m going to do my part as a member of the body that is the Church—to not allow it to lose its soul on my watch. 

Be brave, Christian. You’re needed right now more than ever.